OCD and ME

My road to recovery and freedom by Sally Knight.

‘Trust The Wait’

Well,  I’ve done it! The house is on the market and I’m absolutely buzzing. It’s only been on for four days and there’s been two viewings and an offer,  albeit too low. However,  it’s all positive and I am so excited about a new start.

I’ve lived in this house for 19 years and I am so tired of pulling up on that same driveway.  I have been tired of living here for a long time if I’m honest. When I was living with OCD, I needed the security, the certainty. I couldn’t face the what if’s and the anxiety that a house move would entail.  I already had a lot of anxiety and I felt very alone in life,  I didn’t have someone I could lean on, it would have been all down to me. 

How life has changed. Don’t get me wrong,  I still experience anxiety. It’s normal to feel anxious when there’s big changes to face, but not like I did before. That level of anxiety is cripling. I feel so much better equiped to deal with life now and that’s exactly what I’m doing.

As I mentioned in a previous installment, I met someone new last year. It really took me by surprise. Our first date was amazing. We talked all night, with absolutely no awkward moments. He was handsome,  intelligent, funny and he made me feel attractive and wanted. 

We’ve been together nearly 11 months and I really want to find a home that we can be together in. He comes round for his tea now, but this is no longer my home, it’s just a house. I never encourage him to stay over because I want him to do that when it’s my own place. I want a HOME. A place where my heart is and the people who fill it. 

 

 

‘Nothing to fear but fear itself?’

For many years, I lived with fears. One of my fears even came true.The thing is though, whilst I came face to face with one of my fears, I’m still standing. I found a way through. The fear was more scary than the reality.

I’m currently in the process of getting divorced and with that comes more fear.  I need to settle up financially with my ex and sell the family home.

I’m a single woman who needs to find a home big enough for me and my 3 girls, with just one income. Now, the temptation was to buy him out of the family home. It would mean less stress. It would be more affordable......................It would mean staying in a place filled with the memory of my old life. So I have decided that I really need to move on.

I can’t deny that I have the what if’s? going around in my head. What if I can’t find somewhere that I can afford to rent or buy? What if I’m making a big mistake?

My fears aren’t being eased by those around me either. They too keep raising the what if’s? everytime I speak of my need to move on and build a new life.

I just can’t help but feel that it’s time to put my big girl pants on, as my friend Helen would say and keep facing the things I fear.  I need to embrace uncertainty and see what life brings, jump hurdles as they come before me instead of seeing hurdles that don’t exist yet.

I’ve held myself back so many times because of my fears and often wonder how much I’ve missed out on because of the what if’s? I was brought up to be a worrier, to be cautious and whilst I can see the need to assess risk, I don’t want to live a life being risk averse and miss the opportunity to find my happy place.

OCD was a terrible disorder to live with, but it taught me something very valuable. Our biggest fear is fear itself.

 

 

 

 

‘Laying it on the table’

Since receiving my OCD diagnosis,  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I came to develop it. 

I know from my psychiatry appointments that it’s partly due to biology and also life events. What I’ve been thinking about is what events in my life lead me to that place? 

I’ve spent months reflecting on my life. I’ve gone back inside my brain and accessed my memory banks and have retrieved lots of events and the emotions that went with them. 

My OCD diagnosis was a shock, I’ll even confess that when I was diagnosed, I wasn’t sure that it was right. It didn’t take much time researching OCD on the internet for me to realise that the diagnosis was of course, absolutely spot on. 

Having spent time analysing my biography I now have the answer to that famous question ‘why me?’

There is so much that I feel I need to say. I almost feel that I need to tell you everything to excuse myself for my OCD, if that makes sense? If I can tell someone about my life and where I feel the OCD came from, maybe I could be forgiven for the impact that my OCD had on those around me. 

I trained as a dementia care coach in my previous job role and always say to my colleagues when looking at the behaviour of people with dementia, that people very rarely behave in a certain way without a reason.

I too behaved in a certain way because I had a reason and it wasn’t because I was an insecure, bad person. Actually, it was really quite the opposite.  I’m a good person who after facing some difficult times in life, started to think and then behave in a certain way to try and prevent bad things from happening.

In my quest to raise OCD awareness, I have made the rather bold decision to write a book. Yes, I know! A huge undertaking!

My blog has shared the story of the event that was a catalyst for my seeking help and how I overcame OCD. What I’d like to share with you in my book, is the prequel.

‘You’ve Yet To Have Your Finest Hour’

You’ve read about my journey so far and I feel it’s time to put the past 16 months exactly where they belong and that is well and truly behind me.

I kicked OCD’s arse and started living a new life. I’m Independent in every sense of the word. I Feel confident and powerful, like there’s nothing that can stand in my way!

Writing this blog has been a huge part of the healing process for me. Putting it all down on paper, so to speak, has helped me to lay the recent past to rest. It’s time to forgive myself.

I have been doing as much as I can to raise OCD awareness. Writing this blog being the first step! There was an article about me in the Yorkshire Post, which was made possible by Dr Allan Johnston and the Spire Hospital in Leeds.  I have been using my employers internal communication systems to share my story across the business.

The absolute piece de resistance was running the Leeds 10k on Sunday the 7th of July. Note to self, train more and learn to breathe! 

The atmosphere in Leeds city centre was electric.  I was absolutely bricking it. Everybody looked like an athlete and then there was me! 

I ran with Allan to raise funds for a fantastic charity called ocd action.  I couldn’t have done it with a better person.  I had such a fantastic time and it was lovely to talk to Allan about something other than OCD and my thoughts and feelings! 

I’m embarrassed to say that a man dressed as Scooby Doo carrying a bucket of money finished before me. At least I beat the three women dressed as unicorns! 

As we were coming to the last 400 yards of the race, I told Allan about how I love Queen,  particularly Radio Ga Ga. I’d been listening to Queen when I was out training. So, to spur me on he started singing it. I have to say that he isn’t a bad singer! Haha!

Allan Johnston, you are a fabulous Psychiatrist and a damn fine person, never let anyone tell you any different. Thank you so much for everything.

I’ve carried my medal in my handbag all week and have shown it to anyone who has stood still long enough. 

Another fabulous thing about the 10k was being picked up by my boyfriend afterwards. Yes,  that’s right, I’ve met someone. He’s cheeky, confident, intelligent, funny, generous, courageous and gorgeous. He makes me feel like I matter and loves me just the way I am. Although, he would like me to drive faster and stop talking during movies! 

I have to thank my Mum and Dad. You two have been my rock and I honestly don’t know where I would have been without you.  I love you both more than you’ll ever know.

My friends Eddie, Julie, Sarah and Kelly were never more than a phone call  away and you’re still there. If you ever need anything, anything at all, I’m here for you too. 

Keep visiting my blog because there’s still so much to come. I’ve yet to have my finest hour xx

 

 

 

‘The Garden Gate’

The sun shone a lot in June 2018 and I felt like there was a light shining inside of me. 

I had been taking Sertraline for two months now and the exposure and response prevention was working an absolute treat. The kids were enjoying time out and about with their friends and Mum wasn’t ringing them to check on them. The compulsion to check the bank had significantly faded.

My ex finally found somewhere to live where he could share parental responsibility. I now had time to myself, space to think and the financial burdon was eased. I had a theme tune ’No tears left to cry’ by Arianna Grande. I listened to it over and over, in the house and car.

My best friend, Eddie and I joined the gym and I loved every minute of being there. It was something that was for me; a place that I could go to instead of being home alone when the girls were with thier Dad. The exercise made me feel incredible.

I remember my first aquarobics class with Eddie. I felt so happy. I smiled and laughed and gave absolutely no thought to my life beyond those walls. It was heaven. Every day that I didn’t have the responsibility of the girls, I was there.

My ex was inviting me round to his flat for tea with him and the girls. We still did date nights and I was invited to stay over on occaision. 

Something just didn’t feel right.   I kept asking him questions. Do you love me? Do you want to stay married to me? Everytime he answered yes, but I knew the truth. I didn’t want to admit that he was with her when he wasn’t with me because it hurt. At the same time, the thoughts of a new life, a life without him kept invading my mind.  I was so confused. I wanted someone to tell me it was ok to let go. I wanted someone to tell me what to do and alleviate me of the responsibility of making that decision.

The content of my psychiatry appointments started to change. Discussion became less about OCD and more about my feelings around the break up of my marriage. I remember saying to Allan that I often wondered if I would be better on my own. 

When I was at the gym, I started doing something that I’d not done before. I was looking at other men and wondering what it would be like to have a relationship with someone else; although the thought of having to get my kit off and someone seeing my wobbly bits and stretch marks terrified me!

It was a red hot Sunday morning and me and the girls were meeting my ex and his brother and sister in law. We went out for a nice meal and he was drinking heavily, which to be honest wasn’t unusual. The more he drank, the more arrogant he became.  I felt uneasy.

We ended up at Eddie’s house, just a spare of the moment decision. She had family and friends round and we joined them in the garden.  My ex was really drunk by this point. I still felt uneasy and I was embarrased by his behaviour, infact I was mortified.

He decided to show off by throwing himself fully dressed into the large paddling pool. He emptied his pockets and handed me his wallet, keys, coins  and phone. Just as his phone touched my hand, a text message from her came through. There it was in black and white. The truth.

That was it. That was what I needed. The decision was made.  I stood up, said his name followed by the words ’I f***ing hate you’. I smacked the phone,  coins, keys etc back into his hand. The garden fell silent.  I picked up my handbag, walked out of the garden gate and closed it on my old life.

The next day I made a phone call. ’Hello,  I’m wondering if it would be possible to make an appointment to see someone please. I’d like to file for divorce.’

 

 

 

 

 

’Who am I?’

I’d been taking 50mg of Sertraline every morning for around six weeks by mid May. I had started using the exposure and response prevention to overcome the intusive thoughts that I would have about my children when they were away from me. I was doing well.

I felt more energentic and life felt lighter. It was like I’d been looking at life through a veil, but now the veil had been lifted and there was this clarity. 

I was ready to go back to work, infact I was desperate to get back to work. I missed the routine and sense of purpose.  At home I had too much time to think about everything. 

It was tough going back to work and facing everyone for the first time since it had all happened. My manager was amazing and arranged for me to do a phased return. I decided to be open about why I had been away from work and I'm so pleased that I did. I got lots of hugs and genuine support from my colleagues. I hadn't realised how well thought of I was and it meant such a lot to me.

Being back at work really helped. The days flew by without me giving much thought to my situation.

My psychiatry appointments were every two weeks at this point and I found talking to Allan so helpful. My appointments were a release.  

We spoke about my progress with my OCD symptoms and we also spoke about my feelings around the breakdown of my marriage. 

I was regularly spending time with my ex as a family and I was still focused on him coming home. Something just wasn’t right though.  It wasn’t that I had a feeling, it was more a lack of feeling.

I found myself looking at him, really looking at him.  I would look at him and try to feel something. I felt nothing. There was no attraction, no pull, if that makes sense? I kept telling myself to stop being silly. He was my husband, the father of my children, of course I felt something.

Having less of my mind taken up with intrusive thoughts and worry, created space for other thoughts.   I found myself wondering whether I would be better on my own.  I  was managing life really well. The fear of the uncertain life was far worse than the reality.  I’d managed to keep the family home going and looked after the girls with no problem and no support from him. 

When I saw my ex, I regularly asked him questions, not because I wanted an answer from him,  I really wanted an answer from me. I remember asking him ’Do you know who you are?’  I know he found this line of questioning really odd, but I was enquiring because I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.  For years I was his wife, a mum. I knew I was Mrs P and what the landscape of my life looked like. 

The thoughts of a new life kept creeping in.  I thought about what it would be like starting life all over again and that excited me.

The tables started to turn. I no longer wanted to recover from OCD for him.  I wanted to overcome OCD for me and my children.  I wanted the four of us to be free.  I wanted to know who I really was and the answer wasn’t far away.

 

 

’The Safe Place’

To decribe April 2018 as a shit time in my life would be an understatement. I had no appetite and weight was falling off me. Some days I’d eaten so little that I got really bad stomach pains.  I felt exhausted. The pain in my heart was like nothing I’d felt before and I longed for it to go away.

I was attending marriage counselling with my ex, as well as attending my psychiatry appointments. If I’m honest, I knew. I knew it wasn’t just ego boosting text messages like he insisted.  I let him lie because I was so afraid of the truth. The truth was that I was being betrayed by the person I had given everything to.  I was afraid of what accepting that truth meant.   

I was facing a mortgage, bills and the care of 3 daughters alone. I already had fears and anxieties that I had to face. I couldn’t cope with anything more.  So, I allowed myself to pretend it was all ok and that eventually he was going to come home. The marriage counselling, date nights as suggested by said counsellor. I did it all.

I took time off from work because I needed space. I didn't work at all in April. Every day when I woke up alone in bed, it was like being punched in the stomach. Every day felt the same, empty.

When everything felt too much, I went to the safe place. Where is this mystical haven of security, I hear you ask? Upstairs on the right, opposite the bathroom, covered by a 10.5 tog duvet. 

I needed to shut everything out. I needed a place where I could hide. Hide from the truth, the reality. I spent hours in that safe place in the early days. 

I found great comfort in reading. I turned 40 in the April and my wonderful parents, who were my absolute rock, bought me a kindle. I started to read self help books and think I managed to pretty much make my way through every self help book on Amazon!

I'd go to the safe place, climb under the duvet and pull it up over my head. My girls were wonderful. Even though they were only 14, 13 and 11, they were so understanding and supportive. They called it the safe place too and they were regular visitors. I was open with them about my mental health.

I’m embarrassed to admit that the driving force for overcoming my OCD, was that I thought he would come home if I changed. Life could go back to how I knew it. Certain. Life had always felt certain and now nothing was certain, nothing was promised. 

I started the exposure and response prevention straight after my second appointment with Allan.  We had agreed to start tackling my compulsion to check my bank accounts. 

My ex lost his job when I was on maternity leave with our youngest daughter. He faced redundancy twice and would often fear losing his job because he wasn’t always well liked at work. The fear of being without enough money to get by sparked my checking our financial status. 

I would check my bank on numerous occasions throughout the day. I’d get this thought that would pop into my mind and I’d have to check my banking app to make sure everything was ok.  I was now at the point where I would buy something in Asda and be checking my bank balance as I was walking out of the store.

Allan set me a target of leaving 10 minutes between making a purchase and checking the balance of my account.  I can’t put into words how hard that was. The fear that I wouldn’t have enough money left in my account brought about stomach churning anxiety. 

Although preventing myself from performing the check was so difficult, I pushed myself to leave longer gaps than the 10 minute target. Each time I saw Allan I fed back on my progress and another target would be set. Allan always told me if it felt too much, it was ok to take a step back.  I always pushed myself to beat the target.

Whenever I saw my ex I would tell him how well I was doing.  I was like a puppy waiting for a pat on the head for good behaviour. 

As I headed into May 2018, things started to change. The most significant change was that the need to check the bank was fading away. The fearful, intrusive thoughts were becoming less and less.

Something else started to change too.  I started to fantasise about a different life, a new life.  I kept thinking about a life that he wasn’t a part of.  I started to question whether the uncertain life that lay before me was really as scary as I had imagined it to be. 

 

 

 

 

‘All good things must come to an end.’

My OCD wasn’t the only challenge I had to face in March 2018. My marriage came to an end. ’I can’t do it any more. You’re always checking on me and checking the bank. I love you, but I’m not in love with you.’

We were childhood sweethearts. Together for 22 years, married for 17 years and 3 beautiful children. The ironic thing is that one of my intrusive thoughts was that when he went out he may have an affair. That’s exactly what he was doing.  I was destroyed.  

With the combination of anxiety due to intrusive thoughts and heartbreak, my physical health started to suffer. I couldn’t eat or drink properly and I wasn’t sleeping. I lost 2 stones in less than a month. There are no words to describe the physical and emotional pain that I experienced.

I wasn’t nervous at all for my second appointment with my psychiatrist. After leaving my first appointment carrying a feeling of hope, I was determined.  I was determined to take back control of my life. Determined that I would pick myself up, dust myself down and find myself again. I had never felt so lost.

I had started to take the Sertraline tablets that Allan had prescribed for me and I was around 10 days in  when I saw him again. He reviewed how I felt on the medication and if I’d experienced any side effects. It was early days, so I hadn’t really started to feel any benefit from the treatment yet, but luckily I’d experienced no problems.

Allan spoke to me about another element of treatment that he wanted to introduce. It was a type of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) called exposure and response prevention (ERP). He explained that the plan was for me to expose myself to situations that would cause me to experience intrusive thoughts, but delay myself from performing the check that would normally make me feel relieved. 

Allan assured me that ERP was a very effective  treatment and that combined with the Sertraline would give me a very good chance of my OCD being cured.

We discussed the situations that caused me to experience intrusive thoughts and decided which one we were going to focus on first. I was then set a target for how many minutes I had to wait between having an intrusive thought and then performing the check to reassure myself. 

Sounds easy right? You have no idea........................................

What, no white coat?

I didn’t sleep a wink the night before my first appointment.  I spent the whole night planning how I was going to tell a man I’d never met before that I had thoughts that I couldn’t stop.

I felt embarrased and ashamed of my thoughts and the consequent actions that I would take when I had them. What if the Psychiatrist thinks I’m waisting his time? What if there isn’t anything wrong with me and I’m just insecure or a bad person?

I felt so unwell, yet I couldn’t have explained in what way I felt unwell. I just wanted everything to stop.  I just wanted silence. 

I wasn’t sure that I was in the  right place when I arrived for my appointment. Everything in the reception area was about sport and exercise. I checked in with the young lady at the desk, informing her that I had an appointment with Dr Johnston. She had my name on the system, but I was still a little confused by all the sport related paraphernalia.

I was so nervous, but there was no turning back now. There was a rather impressive staircase which came down into the reception area. I was admiring it’s architecture, when a man in a smart blue suit started walking down them. As he reached the bottom he looked over at me and called my name. “Hi Sally, I’m Dr Johnston, Allan Johnston.”

Allan, guided me into his consultation room. It was a large room with a corner set with two chairs and a little table with water and a box of tissues on it. He went on to explain that he’s a psychiatrist with a keen interest in sports.   I remember joking that I was worried he was he going to try and brainwash me into running the London Marathon! That turned out to not be far from the truth. We’ll be running the Leeds 10k together on the 7th of July!

I told Allan everything, warts and all. He asked lots of questions to clarify things and made pages of notes, in doctors writing of course! I remember watching his face as I was speaking and he wrote things down. He had this look that told me that nothing I said surprised him. He nodded a lot and I could tell that he knew what was happening to me.

When he diagnosed me with OCD,  I was shocked.  I had always thought that OCD was about obsessively cleaning or checking the front door is locked. The fact is that OCD can present in many ways.

Whilst I was shocked, I was also relieved. There was a name for what I was experiencing. I wasn’t insecure or a bad person.  I was a person who had a problem that could be fixed.

Allan gave me some information about places to find out more about OCD and we planned my next appointment to start looking at treatment. He also gave me a prescription for an antidepressant medication called Sertraline. 

As I drove home through the streets of Leeds, I cried.  I cried all of the way home. It was tears of relief. I had a feeling that I hadn’t felt in a long time..............hope.

 

 

 

The greatest relief of all.

“Well, I have some good news Sally. There’s a name for what you’ve been experiencing. You have got obsessive compulsive disorder.” Those were the words of Allan, my Consultant Psychiatrist.

I’d known for a long time that I needed help. My employer offers a healthy minds service and I had planned to ring it so many times. I'd set a day in my mind when I was going to do it. I'd always give myself a couple of days grace and plan what I was going to say. The day would arrive and I would pure and simple bottle it.

For years I’d been experiencing intrusive thoughts.  I think I was in my early 20’s when it first started. I’m still embarrased to talk about it,  but I want to share my story to raise awareness and to try and help people understand what OCD is. 

How many times do you hear people say ”I’m just a bit OCD like that” ? People use the term OCD to describe their need to have things a certain way.

I found my OCD debilitating. It made my life not worth living.  I can’t describe what it is like to live with OCD. I would have thoughts that bad things had or were going to happen. So I would perform checks to make sure that everything was ok. 

It started with intrusive thoughts when my ex husband went on a night out.  I would have thoughts that he would be unfaithful or that he would be attacked. I know it sounds silly, but I would feel so worried that I would ring him to check that everything was ok. When he answered the phone and I knew everything was fine I would feel immense relief. The relief didn’t last long though and the thoughts would come back and I’d feel the need to ring him and check again. 

Intrusive thought = Check = Relief.........the cycle goes on. 

As the years went by I started to have intrusive thoughts about other things. The worrying and checking consumed me. I lived every day of my life feeling anxious and believe me when I say that it was no fun.  I came to a point where I no longer wanted to be here.

On the 26th of March 2018 I did something that I should have done a long time ago. I called the healthy minds number.  For the first time I told someone. I was shocked when they said that they’d like to refer me to a psychiatrist. 

I was sent a link by email that took me to a page that listed the Psychiatrists I could choose from. I chose Allan because when I saw his picture I thought he had a kind face.  I chose well.

Calling that number was the best thing that I have ever done. My only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner.  That call was the beginning of the end. It was the start of the journey to the greatest relief of all.